Knife Skills 101 with one of DC Central Kitchen's youngest volunteers

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
Knife Skills 101 with one of DC
Central Kitchen's youngest volunteers

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

The main event on day five was a trip to DC Central Kitchen, a non-profit organization whose mission is to combat hunger and poverty. I've heard a lot about it over the years from my friend Jose Andres, who currently sits on DCCK's board of directors, and I thought that this was the perfect opportunity for a visit.

As someone who has spent the lion's share of the past thirty years cooking food for fortunate people, hunger issues have always held a special importance to me. Lately they have taken on a new prominence in my life, since my wife and I set out to make a film called "Hungry In America," about this nation's hunger crisis.

DC Central Kitchen is part of the solution, producing and distributing 4,500 healthy meals per day to shelters and other social services programs. They recover over a ton of food daily from restaurants, schools, hotels, and farmers markets, but what they can't get donated they buy from area farmers. At this point, 75% of their raw ingredients are locally grown — something most people can't say about their own home cooked meals.

But that's just the beginning. DC Central Kitchen also generates almost half of its $5.2 million annual budget for its programs from a for-profit catering division, Fresh Start Catering. And the organization goes one step further with a 12-week culinary job training program, addressing the roots of hunger by helping unemployed, homeless, and previously incarcerated adults get back in the workforce. Many of the organization's own 73 employees are graduates of the program.

We took a tour of DCCK's 10,000 square foot kitchen with Jose Andres, founder Michael Curtin, and Chief Development Officer Brian McNair. Salaried employees were busy prepping meals alongside a handful of young kids who had come in from local schools as part of an after school program. They were slicing tomatoes and squash, learning a valuable new skill while doing something for the community.

DCCK is a unique and fascinating model for addressing hunger issues, and one that I hope spreads to New York soon.